World Court Clears Genocide Lawsuit Against Myanmar to Proceed

Waiting for justice . . . 

Myanmar’s military, also known as the Tatmadaw, has moved a step closer to being held to account for mass atrocities against civilians. On Friday, the UN’s highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), rejected Myanmar’s request to halt a case accusing it of genocide. The ICJ can now hear evidence of genocide committed during the Tatmadaw’s 2016-2017 “clearance operations” against the country’s Rohingya minority. The Rohingya are a mostly Muslim population from eastern Myanmar. Since 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The case against the case . . .

Myanmar’s military government objected to the lawsuit, arguing that the ICJ did not have jurisdiction over the events in question. It also claimed that The Gambia, the western African nation which filed the lawsuit in 2019, had no standing in the case. Informally, The Gambia represents the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, an international body of 57 Muslim-majority countries and territories. The ICJ rejected Myanmar’s argument, noting that The Gambia – like Myanmar – is a party to the UN’s Genocide Convention and, as such, is obligated to act to prevent genocide, thereby giving it standing. Canada is a strong backer of the 2019 lawsuit and has made the Rohingya issue a foreign policy priority.

More where that came from?

Friday may have been a setback for Myanmar’s military government, but should the ICJ find the Tatmadaw guilty, it has no mechanism for enforcing its decision. The Tatmadaw still faces other international actions. In March, the UN’s main human rights office charged that since overthrowing the elected government last year in a coup, the military government’s crackdown against resisters may amount to war crimes. Recent BBC reporting based on testimony by disaffected government soldiers suggests that the brutality of the military’s approach is prompting some to defect, undermining the believability of the Tatmadaw’s attempts to refute the accusations while also hampering its ability to subdue the many armed ethnic groups that have banded together since the coup. Over the weekend, Myanmar executed four men, including two prominent human rights activists, drawing condemnation from the UN and several foreign governments.